Norton Seal A man adjusting the thermostat connected to his home's heating and cooling systems.

At Home

What You Need to Know About Heating and Cooling Systems

By: HomeAdvisor

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are important parts of a safe and comfortable home. Without working HVAC systems, families can be subjected to dangerously cold temperatures, carbon monoxide poisoning or heat-related illness.

Central air conditioning, heat pumps, radiant heating and geo-thermal units are all examples of HVAC systems. Which ones does your home have? How long will they last? And when should you make a switch?

What Is Central Air Conditioning?

Central air conditioning is the cooling half of a full “central air” system. Popular for their out-of-site design, central air systems often combine an air conditioner with a furnace so that you stay comfortable all year without having to house and manage two separate systems in your home.

So how does it work? It’s a lot similar to how the refrigerator you have in your home works. It uses the same types of basic mechanical components, but on a much larger scale.

Benefits of Central Air Conditioning Systems

You might pay $5,000 to install central air and a few hundred dollars in regular maintenance over the system’s life span, which is generally 10 to 15 years. But with that price tag come some serious benefits:

Consistent cooling. During high-temperature days, you can count on your central air system to keep the temperature at your liking as long as you need it to.

Cleaner air. Because central air system filters remove pollen and other airborne contaminants, the cooler air in your home will be cleaner than the dusty air it takes in. Make sure to change your HVAC system air filters regularly.

Quieter operation. Compared to window air conditioning units, central air conditioning systems are much quieter.

If you live in a warmer climate, you may have a central air conditioning system. These kinds of systems are only used to cool your home.

What Is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump system typically consists of an inside unit, or air handler, and an outside unit, or heat pump. This system operates upon similar principles to the central air conditioning system.

However, the main function of a heat pump is to transfer warm air to where it’s needed. For example, in the winter, warm air would be transferred into the home. During the summer, the warm air would be siphoned outside.

Benefits of Heat Pump Systems

Because a heat pump's function is not to generate, heat, but rather to transfer it, it is an energy-efficient system. Its efficiency can often help you save money on your electric bills.

Heat pump systems help you to stay consistently cool in the summer and warm in the winter and are more popular in moderate climates. In colder climates, it may be necessary to supplement a heat pump system with another heat source, such as a furnace.

What Is a Radiant Heating System?

Radiant heating systems usually run on electricity. These systems can warm up floors, walls or ceiling panels, making the whole space cozier with the heat they radiate. A typical radiant system can cost approximately $3,650 to install. When properly designed and installed, they can last for more than 30 years.

Benefits of Radiant Heating Systems

Energy efficiency. Due to the absence of "air loss" from ducts, radiant heating systems lose much less of the heat they produce than their counterparts.

Easily adjustable. With radiant heating systems, you can change the temperature of the home’s individual heating panels depending on your specific systems capabilities.

With those benefits come drawbacks, however. These systems are very expensive and often cause uneven levels of warmth. For example, ceiling mounted panels heat the head and shoulders more effectively than the lower body.

What Are Geo-thermal Heating and Cooling Systems?

At high-end prices of $20,000 or more, geo-thermal systems are some of the most expensive to install. However, they’re very cost-effective to use and can last up to approximately 25 years.

According to, geo-thermal systems use the constant temperature of the Earth 30 feet underground to keep homes cool in summer and warm in winter. To put it simply: a long pipe would extend from your house deep into the ground, circulating temperature.

Benefits of Geo-thermal Heating and Cooling Systems

Long-term savings. Geo-thermal systems can shave from 40 to 60 percent off your regular utility bills due to their efficiency.

Low cost of maintenance. The expensive install cost can be mitigated by the low cost and minimal time you’ll have to devote to maintenance.

Environmental friendliness. Geo-thermal systems use the Earth’s temperature to heat or cool your home and waste little resources to do so.

The biggest disadvantage of a geo-thermal heating and cool system? The cost. These systems cannot be completed over a weekend and are not viable DIY projects. A good chunk of that expense is devoted to the expert labor to design and install a unit tailored to your home.

Should You Update or Replace Your HVAC?

An efficient and cost-effective HVAC system is a vital component of a home's livability and sustainability. Carefully maintained units can last as long or longer than average. If overworked by extreme weather, or if simply aged past its prime, think about replacing or making important repairs to keep the air clean and your home comfortable.

No matter the age or type of your HVAC system, it’s necessary that your home has one that functions and keeps your family safe and healthy. You can add even more protection and peace of mind to your life with a homeowners policy from American Family Insurance, too — our agents are dedicated to giving you customized coverage that protects you from the unexpected.

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